In her poem, Perhaps the World Ends Here , Joy Harjo does a marvelous job of capturing the power of community in negotiating the lessons life and death around a kitchen table. It was the first thing that came to mind the other day. A warring group of 10 year old boys were sent to The Office. Friends. Enemies. Frenemies with the balance tipping to enemies on this particular occasion. Betrayal. Unkindness. Hurt feelings. Exclusion. Anger. Sadness. Hopelessness. Frustration. Despair. Indignation. All palpable in the room.
All of the boys were separated and directed to use the calm down strategy that works for them so he could move from the reactionary mode to a problem solving mode. On this particular day, time was not particularly helpful. The external appearance of calm was stitched together by the moral indignation of the crimes of the “other”. All four boys were ready to erupt at the smallest provocation.
The boys came into my office so I could help mediate the talk that was doing nothing but adding fuel to the many fires. When they had a seat at the table, I realized that I hadn’t cleared the teacups from my peer leadership meeting with my Community School Team partners.
I explained, “Sorry, I haven’t cleaned up from my last meeting. Let me get that out of your way.”
The response, “Oh, that’s not for me? I’d like a cup of tea. It’s a thing to calm down. ”
“Hmm. Well, there still is some in the pot. I could get you some” was my response. Fortunately I had decided to keep the tea set I bought for my daughter with the large teapot.
The first thing the boys were able to agree on was that they all wanted tea. With sugar. Apparently lots of sugar. The shift of attention to tea was like shifting tectonic plates. Before long, feelings were bared. Frustrations were vented. Tears were shed. Plans were made. Heartfelt apologies were expressed. The balance had shifted to friends who were still somewhat annoyed with each other.
My thoughts wandered to my maternal grandmother, Nanny Keenan. The rule in the family was, when you walked in the door to visit, you kissed Nanny hello and then put on the kettle for tea before you took off your coat. All of the news, joys and struggles of life were wrestled with, cried over, or laughed about over a cup of tea. In her poem, Joy Harjo writes of the kitchen table: “It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.” Perhaps the same is true in part on the playground, in the classroom, or in the principal’s office over a cup of tea, on a good day!